LED streetlights irk owners of corner lots

Linden Hills residents Meleah Maynard and Michael Hoium
Linden Hills residents Meleah Maynard and Michael Hoium said they are frustrated with light from a new LED fixture that shines into their yard. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Meleah Maynard lives on the corner of 45th & Washburn. She said the new LED streetlight outside her Linden Hills home makes it hard to sleep at night.

The new fixture shines onto her garden and front porch and causes shadows on her next-door neighbor’s house. Light also comes into her bedroom window, which she’s covered with a blanket to sleep better.

Maynard said Xcel Energy, which owns and maintains the pole, came out and adjusted the angle at which the fixture sits but that the adjustment only made the “light trespass” worse for a neighbor. She said the utility has vowed to come out and further adjust the light but that no one has come so far.

“We are not people who think we live in a country where we don’t need lights,” Maynard said. “We really just need to make these lights workable.”

(Maynard writes a column on gardening for the Southwest Journal.)

Across Minneapolis, Xcel Energy’s new, more directional LED streetlights are shining into the yards, living rooms and front porches of some residents. The problem seems to be of particular concern for residents of houses on street corners. Several homeowners said the utility has vowed to adjust the fixtures but that the changes haven’t been helpful.

“It’s not like it’s the end of the world,” said Kenny resident David Shepardson, who lives across from a new fixture. “But I just feel like they’ve really kind of degraded the neighborhoods with the lighting.”

Xcel will typically send out a crew to make adjustments to streetlights within a day or two of receiving a complaint, said outdoor lighting manager Bob Schommer. In most cases, he said that means changing the level of the light.

“We are certainly here to help,” Schommer said. “If anyone has any issues, contact us.”

In an email, Xcel spokesman Matt Lindstrom said the fixtures bring economic and environmental benefits to the communities where the utility has installed them.

Kingfield home
An electronic sign above Jeremy Marshik’s Kingfield home is triggered to turn on at night by an automatic sensor. He said a new LED streetlight makes the side of his house too bright for the sign to light up. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

‘Blasted on the corner’

Xcel owns and maintains many of the streetlights in Minneapolis’ residential areas. Its midblock fixtures are perpendicular to the roadways, shielding nearby houses from light trespass. But its corner fixtures are typically angled into the street, to ensure they light the entire intersection. That means that corner houses can receive some light trespass.

Cindy Ellingson, who lives at a three-way intersection in Kenny, said light from a new fixture blasts through her front windows and doors all night. She said an adjustment made by an Xcel repairman didn’t do much good.

“It really didn’t make any difference, because he didn’t significantly turn it away from our house,” she said.

Ellingson’s neighbor, Mickie Guthmiller, said the middle of her living room is “broad daylight” at night because of the new fixture.

“I understand [the street] needs to be lit up,” she said. “But this is ridiculous.”

She said she doesn’t feel like she should have to put a shade on her front door to mitigate the light.

Shepardson, who lives at a three-way intersection about half a mile away, said the new fixture near his house emits a “harsh gray-white light.”

“It’s kind of like daylight all night long,” he said. “It used to get dark at night, and now it doesn’t anymore.”

He, too, said he hasn’t taken any measures to mitigate the light trespass and that he doesn’t feel it’s his responsibility. He said an Xcel employee told him the utility would make changes but nothing has happened.

Kingfield resident Jeremy Marshik, who lives at an intersection, said a decorative sign above his home that used to turn on at night no longer lights up because of a new streetlight. He said it’s no longer pleasant to sit on his front porch, and he worried the fixture could negatively affect his plant and vegetable garden.

He also didn’t notice any changes after Xcel came and adjusted the light.

“There’s some people that think the more lights the better,” Marshik said. “I don’t think any of those people are the ones that are getting blasted on the corner.”

Light Directions
Mid-block streetlights run perpendicular to the roads, meaning houses across from them are unaffected. But corner streetlights are set at angles to ensure they light the entire intersection. That means that houses in their paths can be affected by “light trespass.” Image courtesy of Michael Hoium

‘Trying to be patient’

Xcel owns and maintains about 24,000 of Minneapolis’ 43,000 streetlights, according to city spokesman Casper Hill. The utility, which owns and maintains streetlights throughout Minnesota, began a statewide conversion a few years ago and began converting Minneapolis’ fixtures this past fall.

Xcel estimated Minneapolis will save approximately $150,000 annually on its street lighting bill because of the conversion. Xcel’s Minnesota president, Chris Clark, said the new bulbs will help “enhance safety” in the communities served by the utility, according to a September press release.

Schommer, the outdoor lighting manager, said the whiter LED light allows the human eye to see color, shapes and details much more clearly than the yellow light the old bulbs emitted. He said the LEDs allow drivers to see things earlier and more clearly than the previous lights did.

Maynard said she doesn’t understand why Xcel didn’t make “better choices out of the gate.”

“It’s like they’re waiting for complaints to come in,” she said. “They’re only fixing these on a case-by-case basis if people complain.”

Marshik said he remains hopeful the utility will make changes to mitigate the situation.

“I’m just kind of trying to be patient,” he said. “I think eventually it will be fixed, I hope.”

People who have issues with the streetlights should call 800-960-6235 or email outdoorlighting@xcelenergy.com to report an issue.

Bryn Mawr lights
A streetlight in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood. Photo by Nate Gotlieb